Looks like something you would expect to see in a 19th century Chinese landscape painting. Or possibly one of those garish, tourist trade, acrylics depicting Thai country life. We passed this place on a little used road, from Mae Sot to Mae Hong Son, which runs along the border with Burma. We thought that we should be able to get some pretty photos in there, but there was something very wrong about this place.
The houses are made of bamboo and leaves. Bamboo for the frame and woven split bamboo for floors and walls. Roofing is made of the large leaves of the tong tok tree held together with bamboo pins. Amazingly, these roofs are quite water-proof. However, the leaves only last for one season and the building has to be re-thatched every year. Also, the whole structure gets eaten by insects and has to be replaced every three years. The Thais have not built building anything like this for decades, now they use bank loans, concrete blocks and fiber-cement sheets for roofs. Even a pig pen will be roofed with fiber cement and mortgages. It was obvious that whoever lived in this place must have very poor lines of credit.
Also, there were no road signs. Almost all Thai villages are marked with signs, usually in Roman as well as Thai symbols. In fact there is no indication, in any language, about what the place is. The next thing we noticed was that there was no roads going into the “village”. Instead the whole area was surrounded by barbed wire, and the gates into the place were guarded by Boarder Patrol Police. So, we asked one of them “what's all this then?”
We were told that it is a refugee camp housing 50,000 Shan, Muslim, Karen and other Burmese who have fled Burma. Most have been living here for more than twenty years. They can come out, it was explained, but nobody can go in. So, we could not get the pretty pictures we wanted.
There was no sign of the UN and NGO workers that have made a career out of helping refugees with other people's money. They are in Mae Sot, a border boom town with luxury shopping malls and first class restaurants, driving about in their Range Rovers.
With Burma now a Democracy and the party of the angelic Aung San Suu Kyi having a large majority, the question arises “why don't these people go home?” Perhaps the fate of the Rohingya might have something to do with it.